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The Hanging Lake Colorado hike is one of the most iconic hikes in Colorado. It’s a short but steep hike in the Glenwood Canyon that is perfectly doable with very young children. Our top tips for hiking Hanging Lake as a family.
I’m a native Coloradoan and no stranger to hiking. I have so many memories of spending weekends and summer mornings in the mountains, exploring trails and rivers with my family.
Since having my children, I will be the first to admit that I haven’t been hiking as much as I would like. It’s a lot of work to hike with a child on your back, and sometimes, even more, to hike slooowly with a young child.
But I recently celebrated my birthday, and in lieu of a present, all I wanted was to see Hanging Lake with my kids.
Before embarking on the trip, I did a lot of research on the viability of completing the hike with my girls, ages 1 and 3. We had a phenomenal time on our hike, and I wanted to share our top tips and tricks with you!
About Hanging Lake Trail
Hanging Lake Trail is an extremely popular hiking trail located in the White River National Forest near Glenwood Springs, Colorado. It is an out and back trail about three miles in length and very heavily trafficked.
This is because the trail leads to an absolutely pristine waterfall and emerald green lake which are marked as a national natural landmark. There is also a small offshoot trail to a spouting rock that is a popular attraction.
Up until 2019, peak season at Hanging Lake would net over 1300 visits a day, but a new permit system limits the visitor count to just under 700.
The Hanging Lake hike Trailhead is located about 15 minutes East of Glenwood Springs on 1-70. This is about 2.5 hours west of Denver. The trailhead is located right along the Colorado River, on a popular trail for bikers.
In peak seasons, to hike Hanging Lake you must get a permit, which means you must park at the Hanging Lake Welcome Center and then ride the shuttle to the trailhead. Information on how to get a permit is in the FAQ section below.
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The trail to Hanging Lake is super well-maintained and marked, and lots of people use it every day. However, it’s about one mile long, and there is a 400 foot elevation gain.
We crossed 7 wood bridges and found river snails along the trail, and the entire trail runs along the path of a stream. (The sound of that gargling stream is so relaxing!)
Once you arrive at the top, the Forest Service has built a beautiful wooden footpath along the edge of the lake (which was great because our newly walking 1-year-old could toddle around safely after spending a long time in the hiking backpack), and there are numerous benches to sit and contemplate the scenery- it’s like a little rest area in nature!
You can also head up about another 100 feet to a beautiful waterfall, and we saw birds and chipmunks enjoying snacks.
We did this hike with a 3 year old and a 1 year old. It took our family about 2.5 hours to hike to the top of the trail, and we made the decision to carry both girls down the trail because everyone was tired and hungry.
The hike is steep, and there are a LOT of rocks. The top of the trail has iron handrails to help you get through the extremely rocky terrain. I don’t even have any pictures of that part of the trail because it was so rocky I needed both hands to steady myself. The trail itself is not at a very high elevation, and it is very shaded. That’s nice for the heat factor!
That said, my 3-year-old daughter did the entire trail of the Hanging Lake hike on her own! We definitely had to help her to get started, and hold her hand in especially rocky parts, but she loved exploring the forest.
I had thrown an Ergo carrier into my backpack, so we put the toddler in the hiking backpack and the baby in the Ergo and jammed down the mountain in about 45 minutes.
We were definitely exhausted at the end, but exhilarated by the beautiful view! Our daughter was so proud of herself for hiking the mountain too!
We spent the whole weekend in Glenwood Springs and loved visiting the hot springs. The locals also recommend the Mushroom Rock trail for families. That’s definitely on our list for the next trip!
What To Bring
Water- It’s important to pack plenty of water, as it was hot and we all looked forward to the water breaks. We love to hike with these water bottles for kids.
Sturdy hiking shoes– I saw people trying to hike in flip flops and cowboy boots… no judgment, but this is a serious hike and good shoes are a must. I wore these Keens.
Sunscreen– Parts of the trail are shaded, but parts aren’t. It’s good to use sun protection- whether that be sunscreen, hat and sunglasses or long sleeves. Remember that the sun is much stronger at higher elevations.
A good day pack– You need to carry everything and do so comfortably. I use my LeSport Sac pack, my Fjallraven or my Eddie Bauer pack.
Bug repellent– There were lots of mosquitos, which we didn’t expect, and I would definitely pack bug spray next time. We swear by these all-natural bug repellent bracelets.
Snacks– We ate LOTS of snacks at the top since everyone worked up an appetite on the hike. Please do remember to pack out all of your trash, as there are no trash cans.
Baby carrier– We ended up carrying both girls down the trail as well, so I was glad I packed two baby carriers- one hiking pack and one Ergo.
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There are different rules for Hanging Lake due to COVID-19. The trail will not open until June 1, 2020, and will require face masks, social distancing, and other safety precautions. Find all of the details here.
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Can you swim in Hanging Lake? – Absolutely not. There are signs everywhere asking visitors to stay out of the lake, to pack in and pack out their trash, and not to swim or enter the lake. This is because the fragile ecosystems will be disrupted. That didn’t stop some models from jumping in the lake for a social media shot though.
Can you fish Hanging Lake? – Also no. There is no fishing anywhere on this trail.
Do you need a permit for Hanging Lake Colorado? – Yep. Hanging Lake used to be a free hike for everyone, but unfortunately, many people were disrespectful of the rules and now you need a permit. You can get a permit to hike Hanging Lake, which costs $12 per person at the Glenwood Springs website. You need a different permit from November 30 – April 30, but the off-season permit allows you to park at the Hanging Lake trailhead instead of taking a shuttle in.
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Welcome! I’m Christa, a former high school teacher married to a handsome Costa Rican and mother of two bilingual daughters. I love all things Spanish and bi-cultural, (especially travel and food!) and you’ll find my observations on life here. Thanks for stopping by